Friday, July 10, 2009

The idiot's guide to interviewing.

One of the things that will serve me well the rest of my life was commissioned sales. Especially given that I worked in a smaller environment where I was subjected to vendor pitches. It was very easy to distinguish the best reps from the worst ones, and it was simple to identify the qualities that made them so. If you valued your income, you made a demonstrative commitment towards your people skills.

At a job support group, I met a man who was laid off from a position as a senior optics technician from 3M. It was obvious after talking to this guy for even a little bit that he was technically brilliant. It was also obvious that his social skills were about what you would expect from someone who was a senior optics technician. They weren't the most refined I've ever encountered in my life.

I had my first interview this week. Because I hadn't really interviewed for a job in seven years, I wanted to brush up on some of the fundamentals. Every once in a while, I'm stupid, and things that should be obvious aren't. That said, when it comes to interviewing, I can boil down ten books into four words that will immediately improve your candidacy with every company.

Don't. Be. An. Idiot.

Chances are if you struggle in real life social situations, you will struggle at an interview, because they share mutual characteristics. Is it okay to incessantly talk about yourself in a social setting? Is it good in a social setting to have a halibut handshake or a whispery monotone voice? Is it okay to interrupt or behave rudely? Is it okay to be late to a prior engagement? Is it okay to ignore the other party's wants or needs? It doesn't work in a social setting, so it probably isn't going to carry over to the interview.

If you can avoid these basic etiquette pitfalls, you're doing good. Just remember, you're in the interview because you're a qualified candidate, and the employer wants it to work out just as much as you do. Show that you're not going to be that person in the office that everyone complains about. I can tell you from experience that while professional talent abounds, good people and good personalities don't. Employers will value that.

I'm lucky in that I've been able to develop good personality skills, but they didn't necessarily come easy. Personally, I think How to Win Friends and Influence People should be mandatory reading in school, because if you have any trepidations about your social skills, it is the single greatest book ever written to help cultivate them.

If you've got the social skills, then, don't be an idiot. Don't answer your cell phone. Make sure your fly is zipped. Keep your opinions about ethnic minorities to yourself. Ten minute diatribes aren't necessary. Just be relaxed and learn whether the company's a good fit for you.

To that extent, I nailed my first interview. Now, we'll see how the rest of this process goes.

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